A few years ago, I received one of the best Christmas gifts ever: an immersion blender. (Oh, boy. I am definitely getting older.) No longer did I have to transfer batches of boiling hot vegetables into a blender; no longer did I have to sully yet another pot or tool. Soon after that, I embarked on a winter of pureed soups – broccoli, butternut squash, even cauliflower and asparagus.
I particularly like the heartiness of butternut squash soup. I’ve made it with apples, with onions, with sour cream…but never with coconut milk, as the November issue of Cooking Light suggests. So, this past Saturday, when the Husband and I ran into a friend (the husband, actually, of the amazing chef who put together the Diwali feast) who was flying solo for the evening, we invited him to dinner and hoped the crockpot – and the coconut – would turn on some magic. I served this up with a cauliflower side, coming in a separate post.
Crockpot Coconut and Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced (tip: I keep a fresh ginger root in the freezer and just grate it as I need. Nice and easy!)
1-2 tablespoons red curry paste (I used Sambal Oelek)
8 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (tip: buy the pre-diced at Trader Joe’s, if there’s one near you)
3-4 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
1 potato, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime
1 13.5 oz can light coconut milk
Heat oil and butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and curry paste and cook about 8 minutes, until the onion is softened.
Combine onion mixture, squash, stock, potato, brown sugar and salt and pepper in your crockpot. Cover and cook and low for 6-8 hours.
With your immersion blender, blend the mixture together in the crockpot until smooth (alternatively, use a regular blender, working in batches). Stir in the lime juice and the coconut milk until the soup turns a nice light orange color. Top with cilantro and serve.
The Husband was very skeptical about the coconut milk, not being a coconut fan. But I’m here to say: it works! (And he and our guest both had seconds.) The creaminess of the butternut combined with the coconut milk definitely requires the kick of the pepper (although the curry definitely lends it some heat) and the acidity of the lime, but this is a squash soup for the rotation.
Before my parents moved out of our childhood home a year or so ago, my mom spent about a year prior to that downsizing all of our (material) things, including her collection of cookbooks. Which means somehow I ended up with the 1998 Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook. And I’ve actually cooked out of it…which leads us to tonight’s meal.
Spoiler alert: this (adapted) recipe is a go-to in our house. I make it when I’m feeling run down, tired or feel like I really just need a big bowl of nutrition. (Yes, that is a feeling). I’ve made it with all different types of broth and greens; I think the combination of Swiss chard and beef broth is the best.
Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups beef broth (veggie, mushroom, chicken, beef, even mixed with water – whatever you have.)
1 cup dried lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
1 big bunch Swiss chard, leaves shredded (I like the red Swiss chard best, though we’ve also used mustard greens, collard greens, kale and even spinach. The only big miss was the mustard greens.)
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper
juice from 1 or two lemons
Optional: cilantro, parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and then add onions. Cook for about 4-5 minutes; add garlic. Keep stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn, and then add broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are cooked through (about 35 minutes).
Add the Swiss chard, cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper. Cook until chard wilts, above 5-6 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Eyeball the broth – make sure there’s enough in there to meet your needs!
Serve with cilantro and – if you’re feeling decadent – parmesan cheese.
I made tonight’s version with a combination of chicken and mushroom broth, which didn’t quite pack the same punch as beef broth. But it was delicious, all the same, and makes plenty of leftovers (again, if you’re feeding only two people). And it would have been super healthy, too, had the Husband not had his with a side of…mini frozen pizzas. You win some, you lose some. At least we got that bowl of nutrition.
I think almost anyone who spends any time in the kitchen has at least one or two “go-to” meals. This is the meal you cook without ever consulting a recipe book, the meal you prepare when you know you need it to turn out well. My “old faithful” is decidedly low brow, but simple to make, healthy, and (dare I say), delicious. It’s chili.
This recipe is adapted – but still largely based – on my very first cookbook. On a last minute trip to BJ’s Wholesale club the week before I went to college for the first time, my mom bought me The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 20-Minute Meals. This book, with its step by step instructions, reliance on simple ingredients, and helpful hints, first convinced me that I could make something edible. More than ten years later, this cookbook’s pages are falling out; they’re splashed with food stains; they’re dog-eared. The book naturally opens to page 117 – the page marked “Unbelievably Good Chili.”
I will never get rid of it.
Varina’s Go-to Chili
1 large can diced tomatoes (you can buy with chilis in them to spice it up!)
1 lb ground beef (lean and mean!)
1 can refried beans (non-fat works perfectly – this is the secret ingredient!)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Large red onion, sliced/diced
Jalapeno or poblano pepper, diced
1 can corn, drained and rinsed
Crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Feel free to twist it up – I like to add – tomato paste, green peppers, other types of beans
Toppings: Sour cream, cilantro, green onions, cheddar cheese, raw onions etc.
In a large dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat, cook the onions down in olive oil until they’re translucent. Pop in a dash of salt and pepper.
Brown the meat in the onions – making sure not to burn the meat. Especially if the meat is super lean (healthy as possible!), make sure it crumbles all the way (otherwise it gets clumps together and is pretty tasteless.)
Add the diced tomatoes, corn, kidney beans and then the refried beans. Mix it all the way through. (Note: if you’re using tomato paste, put that in first so it has time to develop flavor).
Cook down for about 15-20 minutes. (This is a good time to get your cornbread going!)
I like to add the jalapenos/poblanos/chopped green pepper with a few minutes to go before serving time, so they retain a bit of crunch.
Add spices – a good handful of chili powder, about half a handful cumin. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix it up and let cook through another couple minutes.
Serve with toppings!
Doctored cornbread muffins
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
splash milk (use slightly less than the back of the box calls for, to make up for the moisture in the creamed corn)
can creamed corn
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tray with paper liners (Tip: if you spray them lightly with non-stick spray, your cornbread won’t stick to the liner when it’s done.)
Mix all of your ingredients together in a small bowl and pour into the muffin tins, until each cup is about 2/3 full.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
See title of blog post. Enough said!
(No, seriously. And the bonus is, you can generally make this from ingredients you can keep for a long, long time – ground beef in the freezer, cans of beans/corn/tomatoes in the cabinet. The fresh ingredients are an added bonus, but don’t make or break the dish. And it makes a TON of leftovers, if you’re feeding only two people.)